Community Land Trusts – an answer to the housing crisis?

This summer the London Community Land Trust (CLT) will sell 23 new properties built on the site of the old St Clement’s Hospital in Mile End to a diverse mixture of buyers.

Nick Yandle is Finance Policy Officer at the National Housing Federation

Nick Yandle is Finance Policy Officer at the National Housing Federation

8 June 2016

In theory it should be simple; young people and families with strong ties to their local area, good jobs, and a commitment to their community, are able to work hard, save some money and eventually think about buying a home of their own. This is the basic premise that many of us are brought up to believe in, and is a process which is vital to the on-going success and vibrancy of our communities.

But for many people in London the scenario described above could not be further from the truth.

In London in 2016 the price of decent accommodation, be it to buy or rent on the market, bears no discernible relationship to average earnings. The result being that those entering the labour market now have no clear path to housing stability and are often forced to spend a significant proportion of their income on accommodation costs. The negative consequences of this distortion in the market are myriad: employers struggle to attract new employees, long term decisions on training, education and family are delayed, support networks are disrupted and stretched, and the concept and importance of ‘place’ becomes a thing of the past.

That is the context, and admittedly on the surface it appears to be a pretty hopeless state of affairs. But working within this context is an organisation which rejects the assumptions and pessimism of the status quo, an organisation which has grown out of the very communities being stretched and pulled by the housing market, and has responded to this challenge by harnessing the energy and creativity of local people to devise and deliver solutions.

This summer the London Community Land Trust (CLT) will sell 23 new properties built on the site of the old St Clement’s Hospital in Mile End to a diverse mixture of buyers, united by their connection to the Borough of Tower Hamlets, their commitment to their communities and their need for affordable and decent housing. This model is a first for London and achieves an almost revolutionary combination of homeownership and genuine affordability.

I was fortunate to be invited to take part in some of the final discussions around allocation of the new homes, and the importance of what I experienced on the day inspired this blog… Below are some of my key observations:

It is possible to de-couple homeownership from financial investment and expected future returns

The London CLT model allows households to own their home and benefit from the associated security, whilst ensuring the homes will remain affordable and available to the community in perpetuity. Prospective buyers understand this logic and are supportive of it, they are not seeking an asset which is going to increase in value by 10% per annum, they want a home which they can afford and call their own.

Being part of a community matters

Despite technological advances, globalisation and enormous changes to the ways we live and work, there is inherent value to us as individuals and groups when we are able to grow up in an area, become part of a community and then contribute to that community’s future growth and success. This is wrapped up in our sense of identity and belonging, and for some, a desire to give back to the community which has contributed so much to their own lives. Without affordable housing options for young households this will be lost, and once gone, will be hard to replace.

The housing crisis in London has no ‘typical’ victim

It cannot be reduced to simple statements about ‘hard working families’ or ‘young professionals.’ The fact is that London’s diversity is reflected in those who are being priced out of the housing market. The people we spoke with ranged from artists to IT specialists, social workers to teachers. These are people who are vital to the success and character of their area, their borough and therefore their city, but are not catered for by the traditional housing market.

Many of the households we met said that they had given up on staying in Tower Hamlets, recognising that the cost of renting or buying was so prohibitive that if they wanted a place of their own they would be forced to leave their communities behind and move away from established jobs, schools, friends and family. Over the course of the day people described the opportunity presented by the CLT as being so transformative and unexpected as to resemble a miracle.

How we live and what we value is at the core of who we are as a community, a city and a society. The London CLT demonstrates the potential for people to come together and deliver change for their area, but there is also a need for those in positions of power and responsibility to play their role and commit to delivering genuine change.

We have a new mayor and assembly in London, and housing was the crucial issue during the election campaign. It is my hope that this will be the start of a step change in housing policy in London and across the UK, putting the needs of people and communities at the very centre of what we imagine a successful city and housing market to look like.

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